Iran intensifies disinformation campaign to spread discord within US: Time magazine

Iran intensifies disinformation campaign to spread discord within US: Time magazine
Iranian state actors are intensifying their disinformation campaign on social media to spread discord and anti-Semitic tropes inside the US. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Iran intensifies disinformation campaign to spread discord within US: Time magazine

Iran intensifies disinformation campaign to spread discord within US: Time magazine
  • The social media accounts were traced to troll farms managed by the Iranian regime to sow disinformation
  • The report comes the same day that a UK think-tank published a report saying Iran is behind fake news websites pushing anti-Saudi and anti-Israeli rhetoric

LONDON: Iran has intensified its activity on social media to sow discord in the US, Time Magazine revealed on Monday.
“Iranian state actors are intensifying their disinformation campaign on social media to spread discord and anti-Semitic tropes inside the US,” the American magazine said, citing two US intelligence officials.
The social media accounts were traced to troll farms managed by the Iranian regime to sow disinformation on the nuclear deal, the US announcement of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin, and the 11-day war that rocked the Palestinian Gaza Strip last month.

“It’s a significant level of activity,” one official told Time. “It’s active enough that we’re tracking it.”
The story comes the same day that a UK think-tank published a report saying Iran is behind fake news websites pushing anti-Saudi and anti-Israeli rhetoric
The Henry Jackson Society report found that Iran used an elaborate network of websites in order to attempt to influence British politics.

 


UK backlash prompts WhatsApp privacy campaign

The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services. (File/AFP)
The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 June 2021

UK backlash prompts WhatsApp privacy campaign

The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services. (File/AFP)
  • WhatsApp announced on Monday the launch of a privacy-centered advertisement campaign in the UK aimed at combatting pressure from governments.
  • The campaign is intended to promote benefits of its end-to-end encryption feature.

LONDON: WhatsApp announced on Monday the launch of a privacy-centered advertisement campaign in the UK aimed at combatting pressure from governments to change the way the platform encrypts messages.

The campaign follows customer criticism against changes to its terms and conditions, announced in early 2021, and is intended to promote benefits of its end-to-end encryption feature.

WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, meaning that messages can only be read on the device which sends one and the device which receives it. The platform itself, and its parent company Facebook, cannot view or intercept them. 

In January, WhatsApp announced changes to its terms and conditions which sparked concern from thousands of users who wrongly thought the messaging app would start sharing encrypted messages with Facebook.

The changes, however, were mainly related to enabling companies to accept payments via WhatsApp. 

At the time, WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart took personal responsibility for the confusion the announcement had created.

Since then, however, the end-to-end encryption feature received criticism from the UK government, with Home Secretary Priti Patel describing the use of end-to-end encryption as “not acceptable.”

Patel argued that this feature puts children at risk and offers a hiding place for child-abusers and other criminals.

The campaign comes as the messaging platform faces pressure from other encrypted messaging services, with many users switching away from WhatsApp in the wake of the policy update confusion.


First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East

First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East
Updated 15 June 2021

First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East

First NFT digital Islamic art agency to launch in Middle East
  • A NFT is essentially a unique digital unit that cannot be replicated

DUBAI: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are all the rage in the art world.

A NFT is essentially a unique digital unit that cannot be replicated. While the high prices that NFT art has commanded have perplexed some, others take pride in owning a unique digital asset that gives them exclusive and permanent rights.

The NFT art market has grown more than 800 percent in just the first four months of 2021, from $52 million in January to a whopping $490 million by the end of April, according to a Business Insider report.

As a result, more artists are looking to create NFT artworks with several agencies and galleries launching specialized divisions to manage digital art.

Dubai-based Behnoode Foundation is due to launch the first-ever NFT digital Islamic art agency in the Middle East, Behnoode Art.

In 2016, Behnood Javaherpour, founder and creative director at Behnoode, launched the foundation, which supports charities in Nepal and Iran. Behnoode Art will partner with the foundation to donate a portion of all auctioned digital artwork to help out-of-school children.

The new agency aims to modernize the artworks of talented Middle Eastern artists and sell its unique digital footprints through live auctions to fine art collectors around the world, Javaherpour told Arab News.

“Art is universal, and my agency allows Middle Eastern, European, and Asian artists to showcase their work all around the world and to shine a spotlight on their incredible talent,” he said.

Behnoode Art is currently working with more than 100 artists who are creating NFT artwork. Its ambition is to make NFT art easy to understand and promote for artists.

“Most of the artists under my current project are not into digital technology, but they have the best talents in the world,” Javaherpour added.

Behnoode Art will serve as a platform for artists who want to make their art available digitally and participate in the agency’s activities throughout the year such as private auctions, collaboration projects, gala events, and other gatherings to sell and promote artwork.

Javaherpour said the agency was working to set up links with Islamic banks and other financial institutions in the region to “create a community that values fine art while integrating modern technology.”

Behnoode Art was expected to officially launch in July.


EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech
Updated 15 June 2021

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech

EU court backs national data watchdog powers in blow to Facebook, big tech
  • EU court supports national data watchdogs to pursue big tech firms.
  • The ruling could encourage national agencies to act against US tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Apple.

BRUSSELS: Europe’s top court on Tuesday endorsed the power of national data watchdogs to pursue big tech firms even if they are not their lead regulators, in a setback for Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook.

The EU Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling could encourage national agencies to act against US tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Apple, which all have their European Union headquarters in Ireland.

Many national watchdogs in the 27-member European Union have long complained about their Irish counterpart, saying that it takes too long to decide on cases.

Ireland has dismissed this, saying it has to be extra meticulous in dealing with powerful and well-funded tech giants.

The CJEU got involved after a Belgian court sought guidance on Facebook’s challenge against the territorial competence of the Belgian data watchdog’s bid to stop it from tracking users in Belgium through cookies stored in the company’s social plug-ins, regardless of whether they have an account or not.

“Under certain conditions, a national supervisory authority may exercise its power to bring any alleged infringement of the GDPR before a court of a member state, even though that authority is not the lead supervisory authority with regard to that processing,” the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) said.

Under landmark EU privacy rules known as GDPR, Facebook faces oversight by the Irish privacy authority because it has its European head office in Ireland.

The case is C-645/19 Facebook Ireland & Others.


YouTube bans masthead ads for politics, alcohol and bets

YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. (File/AFP)
YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 June 2021

YouTube bans masthead ads for politics, alcohol and bets

YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. (File/AFP)
  • Youtube will no longer allow political, election, alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs ads at the top of the site's homepage.
  • The change to its most prominent ad unit was effective immediately, said Google.

Alphabet Inc’s YouTube will no longer allow political or election ads in its coveted masthead spot at the top of the site’s homepage nor ads for alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs, it said on Monday.

In an email to advertisers, seen by Reuters, YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads. It said it has retired these full-day reservations, like the one then-President Donald Trump reserved to dominate its homepage on Election Day 2020, and replaced them with more targeted formats.

“We regularly review our advertising requirements to ensure they balance the needs of both advertisers and users,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We believe this update will build on changes we made last year to the masthead reservation process and will lead to a better experience for users,” they added.

Google said that the change to its most prominent ad unit, which was first reported by Axios, was effective immediately.

Google paused political ads altogether around the US presidential election and again ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January this year, citing its policy over sensitive events.


New news channel launches in UK and wants to shake things up

Observers have drawn comparisons between the US-based Fox News and GB News. (Twitter)
Observers have drawn comparisons between the US-based Fox News and GB News. (Twitter)
Updated 15 June 2021

New news channel launches in UK and wants to shake things up

Observers have drawn comparisons between the US-based Fox News and GB News. (Twitter)
  • GB News launched on Sunday with the aim of changing the current media landscape in the UK.
  • A rival to BBC and Sky News, GB News wants to offer viewers a more opinionated service.

LONDON: A new news channel launched on British television on Sunday evening with the aim of shaking up a media landscape that it claims has become an echo chamber for metropolitan elites.

GB News, which is positioning itself as a rival to the BBC and Sky News, denies it will be the British equivalent of Fox News.

However, the channel, which has been backed by New York-based Discovery and British investor Paul Marshall, among others, clearly wants to do things differently, offering viewers a more opinionated service than they are used to.

“We are proud to be British,” veteran broadcaster Andrew Neil said during the launch. “The clue is in the name.”

Neil, the new channel’s chairman who has previously edited the Sunday Times newspaper and was a long-standing political interviewer for the BBC, told viewers that GB News will “expose the growing promotion of cancel culture” and will give a voice “to those who feel sidelined or silenced.”

Neil, 72, launched the channel with an hour-long introduction to the presenting line-up, many of whom have been enticed away from the BBC and Sky News.

In his opening monologue, Neil said GB News would cover “the stories that matter to you and those that have been neglected” and would deliver “a huge range of voices that reflect the views and values of our United Kingdom.”

GB News, he added “will not slavishly follow the existing news agenda” and would not be “another echo chamber for the metropolitan mindset that already dominates so much of the media.”

The launch was not without technical issues, including a microphone glitch when Neil was chatting with one of the channel’s presenters, Neil Oliver.
GB News will broadcast seven days a week across the UK and Ireland and will be available globally on digital platforms.